More than two decades ago, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me since, and that I’ve taught countless salespeople – all of whom have used it to good effect. It’s about the most valuable information you can possess. Of course, I tell everyone that the most valuable information is information about their CUSTOMERS – but some pieces of information are more valuable than others.
In the situation I’m recalling, I was dealing with a repeat customer on a fairly large purchase of electric motors. This customer and I had done business a few times, and I knew that anytime he was buying more than about $5,000 of stuff, he liked to let it percolate for a couple of days, and then he’d buy. The problem was that my sales manager was trying to cram numbers to finish the month, and if I let the customer wait, the month would end.
“Hey,” my SM said, “don’t you want to finish STRONG? Just apply a little salesmanship to this guy.”
I responded, “Look, I know him. He’s gonna buy but if we try to pressure him, it’ll irritate him. I’d rather not upset a good customer.” My SM snorted in disgust – and then, unbeknownst to me, called my customer and offered him a “buy now” discount. My customer called me and wanted to know who the ‘jerk’ was that was pressuring him. I was caught unawares, and long story short, my customer ended up buying from my competitor, and it took me a few months to get back into his good graces. When I did, he bought the same exact way as before.
I learned two things from that incident:
- The most important thing you can know about a customer is how that customer prefers to buy.
- Once you know that, the most important thing you can do is to respect how that customer prefers to buy.
This goes against all the old tropes of selling – “Persistence pays off,” “closed mouths don’t get fed,” etc. But there’s a reason those are old tropes. Respecting your customer and how they want to do things is key to an arrangement.
“But Troy,” the old-time salesperson says, “Buyers are liars, and what if they’re just stalling you to get a better deal from your competitor?”
My up-to-date response is this: Ultimately, the buyer buys from who they want to. If they’re just stalling me to get a better deal elsewhere, then I haven’t sold my value well enough.
“So you’re telling me,” o-t-s says, “that when a customer tells you to wait, that you wait?”
My response is that, yes, normally I do. Over the years, I’ve won far more deals than I’ve lost by respecting the customer’s buying process. The truth is that it’s a lot harder to sit and wait than it is to push, push, push – I’m not an overly patient person. But it’s a lot harder to lose a potentially good deal because you pushed a customer away.
So my advice to you is, with every customer: Find out how they want to buy and then align your sales process to it. Your customers will thank you – and sooner or later, your Sales Manager will too when you show him/her the numbers.